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In The Message—an interpretation, not a translation (so read with caution!)—the introduction to Galatians includes the following:
Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for "Logos":
In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).
Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps "Are you a born again Christian?" (isn't that redundant?) is even more popular, but "Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?" definitely competes.
Can we claim Jesus as our own "personal Savior"?
Personal is used here in the relational sense—that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and me or Him and you, personally.
What does the Bible teach on this?
The Bible does not contain those exact words—"personal Savior"—but what about the concept? Consider two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.
David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.
I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)
Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)
Do you sense a personal relationship in David's words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David's God! This relationship comforts and empowers because it does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world—it's directly between a man and his God.
Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)
Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have—and you either are His or you aren't.
God said in the beginning: “It is not good for man to be alone.” He made a woman to be man’s helper, a fully compatible partner who completed him. In creating marriage, God taught all men and women that we are not to be lone wolves or isolationists.
Now, God was not saying that all men and women must marry—marriage is not a mandate. But God created marriage as the norm, and we should raise our children to understand that marriage is good, right, and holy.
There’s more to learn, though, in the words, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
When Satan tore Job’s world down, three of his friends gathered around and sat with him in silence for seven days and seven nights to help him bear his misery. Men and women of the ancient world thrived and survived in communities, small towns, and cities, travelling with their tribes.
Abraham had a household of several hundred. When King Chedorlaomer and three other kings took Abraham’s nephew Lot captive, Abraham rallied the trained men of war who had been born in his household—318 men—to retrieve what had been stolen (Gen. 14).
Jesus surrounded himself with men, and when he sent them out, he sent them in pairs (Luke 10.1)—no loners. In Acts, when Antioch sent men on missionary journeys, they always sent at least two together (Paul with Barnabas, Paul with Silas), and at points we find Paul travelling with a larger retinue (Acts 20.4).
God has always spoken of his faithful ones as a covenant people. Yes, God saves individually, but individuals are never saved in isolation. God’s assembly supports, encourages, lifts up, heals, helps, prays for, teaches, admonishes, rebukes, forgives, loves—each other. Paul needed to be with the brethren whether he was in Ephesus, Philippi, or Corinth because they fed him just as he fed them. God’s mercy and comfort is not meant to be accepted from him and then kept for ourselves—God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1.4).
God designed us to be team players.
We live in an isolationist world. Ironically, we hold the illusion that we are super-connected and have hundreds of friends, yet how many real friends do we have? Do our online communities fulfill us the way God intended, the way he designed us? When we post our latest success on Faceplant or Instapotty and our digital network throws thumbs and hearts at us, is this healthy human interaction God’s way? A sizeable percentage of our eight billion brothers and sisters now seem to accept this online fiction as reality.
And they are so lonely.
Because it’s not real.
God created us to be together, to talk face-to-face, to literally be there for one another.
Anyone need some help with some chores around the house? Let me know
Here is the last in a series of dirty clothes Paul instructs Christians to take off and clean clothes to put on in their place, and this one is a doozy. He began this list in Ephesians 4.25, and we have now come to Ephesians 4.31–32:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Take Off These Corruptions
The first set of attributes, which we are to remove from our persons, reminds us of storybook villains.
Bitterness eats us like spiritual cancer, doesn’t it? We harden our hearts towards one another, and over time our unresolved conflicts and untreated wounds result in irreconcilable differences. Bitterness traps our hearts in quicksand which swallows up our joy of living and stains our relationships.
The next two words—wrath and anger—seem synonymous.
The first (wrath in the ESV) is thumos in the Greek and only appears a handful of times. In Acts 19.25, a crowd in Ephesus became enraged (thumos), and the Nazareth Jews were filled with wrath (thumos) when Jesus contrasted their unbelief with the faith of Gentiles (Luke 4.28).
The second word (anger in the ESV) is orgē in the Greek and is translated variously “wrath” and “anger” in different verses. Jesus displayed this anger in Mark 3.5, as he saw the hardness of the Jewish leaders’ hearts towards a man with a withered hand. Orgē is often used for the “wrath of God.” In the context of these two verses in Ephesians 4, this has to do with wrath and anger we have towards one another.
Interestingly, Paul already dealt with anger just a few verses prior in Ephesians 4.26, “Be angry and do not sin.” He used the verb form of orgē, orgizō. Like we observed when we examined that verse, anger is not necessarily a sin in itself, but it can quickly lead to sin, and it becomes sin when we let it fester and grow.
Clamor has to do with loud cries—a high volume of sound. Hebrews 5.7 uses this same word saying that Jesus used “loud cries and tears” in crying out to the Father. In Acts 23.9 a great clamor arose among a crowd of Jews as they argued with one another. What kind of clamor does Paul address here? We should not be yelling at one another! We should not be contending, fighting, arguing with one another. We all know that guy or that gal who is always pushing back, raising the temperature, and getting into arguments.
Slander is the Greek word blasphēmia, from which we get “to blaspheme” and “blasphemy.” It means to speak against someone. Why would we speak against one another? Why would we tear down a brother’s or sister’s good name and cultivate mistrust and suspicion? Slander does that. Even if elements of truth exist in the slander, it leans hard on negative characteristics, so a hearer walks away upset and disgusted at the slanderer’s target.
Finally, we are to put away all malice. This word is variously translated “wickedness,” “trouble,” “evil,” and “malice.” When you intend evil towards someone, when you devise wickedness in your heart toward someone, you act maliciously. You intend for someone to fret, to fail, to fall.
Put On These Graces
It would be wonderful if none of us harbored any bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, or malice toward another. Every man, in his flesh, will act this way at times. It takes the grace and power of God to eliminate these corruptions from our lives and to cultivate mercy and grace in our hearts.
Therefore, by the power of Christ and his Holy Spirit, we should replace those evil things with:
Kindness! For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness… Love is patient; love is kind. If God is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil (Luke 6.35), how much more should we, being listed among the evil, be kind to our neighbors and our brethren?
And we are to be tenderhearted. First Peter 3.8 also uses this word: tender heart. We should be sensitive to the troubles of our brethren, weep with them when they weep, and rejoice with them when they rejoice. Help them when they hurt.
Forgiveness! We should forgive each other as God has forgiven us, and that’s a high calling! Here, God teaches us how to overcome bitterness. Why do we think we will lose when we forgive someone of an offence? Don’t we, though? We think we will lose power, our right to retaliate. Satan is selling his lies again. In fact, we will lose heartache and the bitterness of soul that eats away at us. We will lose the desire for retaliation. If we let go of the offense, we may gain a fast friendship. How fully has God forgiven us when we asked? Has he not given us everything we’ve asked for? How can we still harbor resentment and evil thoughts towards our brethren?
As we complete this short list of things to take off and put on, I hope we can see the secrets Paul reveals to show us how to enjoy healthy and holy relationships with our brethren. He lights the path of peace; we just need to trust and obey! God has promised awesome rewards down this road.
In my younger days, I heard much ado about TULIP, the five tenets of Calvinism. I did not hear about the five solas of the Reformation. Do you know these?
- Sola Scriptura (scripture alone – as opposed to scripture + church tradition)
- Sola Fide (faith alone – as in faith apart from works)
- Sola Gratia (grace alone)
- Sola Christo (Christ alone – He is the only way)
- Soli Deo Gloria (to the Glory of God alone)
All of these were shifts away from the Roman Catholic Church, and Sola Scriptura was a major key. The Reformers recognized the church should be guided only by the authority of Scripture, not by additional books or church traditions. They knew church traditions were not necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but they refused to recognize church tradition and official church declarations as authoritative, to which I lend a hearty amen.
As Martin Luther famously stated at the Diet of Worms: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”
However, many have taken an extremist view of Sola Scriptura and have interpreted it to mean that each person should start fresh with his Bible and interpret it from start to finish with no input from others. As one brother puts it: “Just me and my Bible under a tree.”
This viewpoint has been labeled Solo Scriptura (with an o instead of an a) to differentiate it from Sola Scriptura, as they are not the same.
Being led by Scripture alone does not mean we should throw out all the excellent studies of men through the ages. When we come to the text, it is good practice to do some preliminary wrestling with it to see how much spiritual ore we can extract from its deep mines. But it is also good practice to follow up our own observations with further study from faithful Biblical scholars who have spent lifetimes studying the same Word.
Churches with roots in the Restoration Movement can be especially bad about this. We tend to throw most of church history largely out the window with claims like, “We just need to get back to the simple gospel,” and “use Bible words in Bible ways.” I agree with both of those statements, but I do not agree with throwing out the whole church history baby with the bathwater of church traditions.
Sola Scriptura does not reject creeds outright; it keeps creeds in their proper place. Creeds are “I believe” statements, and the ones which have endured have been well-thought-out and tested by many men over long periods of time. Some of the oldest Christian creeds are the Nicene Creed, Apostles Creed, Athanasian Creed, and the Creed of Calcedon. All of those were written during the first 400 years of the church, and they are helpful to show us how the early Christians understood our Scriptures.
Sola Scriptura in humility invites the criticism of the church because it accepts that many Christians have thought through God’s word before us. Solo Scriptura (just me and my Bible) tends towards divisiveness and pride—because my interpretation is just as good as anyone else’s (better, if I’m honest with myself, right?). I know of several families who have left the churches they were with and started their own house church because they couldn’t find a church which agreed with them on their interpretation of Scripture. Their fellowship became incredibly small; indeed, it was just them and their Bible under a tree rejecting the rest of Christ’s kingdom.
I bring this up in our Restoration environment as an encouragement to open our ears to a wider range of Christian input. Don’t be afraid to pick up a commentary by Dr. R. C. H. Lenski (a German-born Lutheran) or Adam Clarke (an Irish-born Methodist) or Alfred Edersheim (a Scottish Presbyterian of Jewish extraction) or John Calvin (a French reformer). These men have made outstanding contributions to the study of Scripture, having spent countless hours in the true effort of not only diving deep into the text but also inscribing their observations for later generations.
Do not blindly accept anything a person writes about Scripture – the men are not authoritative in themselves – but read and listen with a heart open to evaluate what they say. You’ll find nuggets of enlightenment everywhere.
Adherents to Solo Scriptura find themselves lonely and divided. This can happen on an individual scale, or it can be on a church or denominational level. Among the churches of Christ, the autonomy of each local church is a flag flown high. The result, at least in some cases, has been a bevy of loner churches mourning how small Christ’s kingdom is. Even at the more macro level of the “churches of Christ” we may still have this problem. Conservative, non-institutional churches tend to see even institutional churches of Christ as possibly non-brethren because of their view on things such as spending church money on orphanages and church kitchens. The result is a tiny brotherhood.
Maybe they are correct. Perhaps the true brotherhood of Christ is very small. Perhaps it is just the collection of non-institutional churches of Christ who have got all the correct worship items figured out.
Alternatively, what if no ONE person and no ONE church has it figured out? What if our salvation is dependent not upon how perfectly we understand Scripture but upon the honor we give it and how we submit to what we do understand of Scripture, God, and Christ? What if our salvation is dependent not upon faith in our personal interpretation of Scripture but upon faith in Jesus Christ? What if God wants us to walk in humility and fellowship with others who name Christ as their Savior (and live like it)?
What if we are not supposed to do this Christianity thing solo?